As the Leveller winds down our ninth production cycle, the Canadian government and citizens alike prepare for a summer of Canada 150 celebrations. Throughout this past year, we have touched on the problems associated with these nationalistic festivities, chief among them being Canada’s colonial past and the problems that history poses for the present.
As the City of Ottawa devolves into an intoxicated sea of red and white, we should call it for what it is: a celebration of whitewashing, of colonial erasure. It is not a celebration that merely serves to forget history but one of denial and one that rewrites the cultural genocide, land theft and elimination of Indigenous nations and populations subjected to 500 years of colonization.
“Because it’s 2015.”
After the Liberal Party’s 2015 federal election victory, Justin Trudeau famously declared the triumph of feminism and that Canada hitherto had reached a new height of gender parity, realized through Canada’s first gender-balanced Cabinet. Of course, this gesture towards equality is hollow when compared with the underlying sexism and patriarchy that permeate Canadian society.
When grandstanding politicians look in our eyes and tell us that they are feminists or that Canada has no history of colonialism or that we have embarked on a nation-to-nation relationship renewal, we must be wary and challenge the underlying assumptions that mark the colonial present.
“Because it’s 2017.”
In 2017, Canadian politicians continue to say the darnedest things.
Conservative senator Lynn Beyak, in a March 7 speech, attempted to rewrite history by saying that Canadians didn’t quite grasp the full picture of the infamous residential school system, which produced an “abundance of good,” including successfully converting Indigenous children to Christianity.
Beyak said that the “horrible mistakes” that were made were “overshadowed” and that “nobody meant to hurt anybody.”
Perhaps it is no surprise that Beyak, a member of the Senate committee on Aboriginal Peoples, was nominated by Stephen Harper in 2013. In 2009, Harper publicly denied that Canada had a history of colonialism.
Beyak continued, “I speak partly for the record but mostly in memory of the kindly and well-intentioned men and women and their descendants — perhaps some of us here in this chamber — whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part.”
These preposterous statements are in line with Beyak’s critical views on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which found that the residential school system was responsible for the deaths of at least 6,000 Indigenous children.
At least 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth were forcibly removed from their families and communities to attend the schools over several decades, with the last school closing in 1996. However, Indigenous children continue to be removed in large numbers without the consent of their families through the child welfare system in a 21st Century equivalent of the residential school system and the 60s Scoop.
The underlying goals remain.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s final report states: “Residential schools were a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples.”
Beyak may shrug off this Editorial quoting the report as “fake news.” Her office released a statement following backlash to her speech, which included NDP MP Romeo Saganash, a residential school survivor, equating Beyak’s comments to saying, “there are some good sides to what Hitler did to the Jewish community,” further calling for the Senator to resign her seat.
Of those she mentioned in her statement, Beyak would probably not include the Leveller amongst the “honest and ethical journalists who wrote and the intelligent well-informed citizens who are not intimidated by voices who seek to stifle debate.”
A further look into Beyak sheds light on her colonial views towards Indigenous peoples.
Beyak has called for an audit of all money “flowing in and out of reservations,” perpetuating harmful stereotypes regarding corruption on reserves and myths surrounding millionaire chiefs. Read Pam Palmater’s “The Myth of the Crooked Indian” on how to further confront and debunk stereotypes levied at those that settler society is attempting to delegitimize and erase.
How to respond to statements made by the likes of Beyak in 2017?
Perhaps we should stop thinking in terms of, “Because it’s 2017” or “It’s the 21st Century!” because there is a widespread, concerted effort to assert the dominant cultural views of Canadian benevolence, whiteness masked as multiculturalism, and peace, order and good government, at the expense of realizing and embracing not only the soiled past, but that we are actually in the midst of this legacy. It is ongoing. It is here, now. Canada 150 is representative of that. Canada 150 celebrations are part and parcel of the ongoing genocide that has the ultimate aim of eliminating Indigenous nationhood. Only through the continued oppression of Indigenous peoples and suppression of Indigenous assertions of self-determination can Canada continue to thrive and prosper as a result of the ongoing theft of Indigenous land and resources.
This is not only about history, it is about the present.
This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 9, No. 6 (Spring 2017).